My recent pedicab adventures in Orlando and St. Pete.

Taylor Swift: The Red Tour truck trailer.

St. Pete was more adventurous than Orlando because I explored more of the city when I was there but I’ll get into that later. Last weekend should’ve started for me on Thursday April 11th for the first of two Taylor Swift concerts at the Amway Center but I was too busy and couldn’t make it. On the 12th, I wanted to get there in time to work the entrance but was still too busy. I could only work the exit and even with that, it turned into a surprisingly good night. With acts as big as Taylor Swift, when the concert ends and it’s a Friday or Saturday night, you already know the minimum amount of money you’re gonna make. I damn near hit it working the exit alone. I can only imagine how good the night would’ve been if I was able to get there earlier.

There was bad weather in the forecast for all of last weekend. My original plan was to work all 3 days of the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in St. Pete at Vinoy Park but I kept my eye on the weather online and there was a big blob of precipitation just sitting offshore. It wasn’t worth the risk to me to drive all the way there and get rained out. Orlando had a clear forecast and I really don’t like working late but I didn’t wanna go the day without making something comparable to what I would’ve made in St. Pete. There weren’t too many pedicabs working that night in downtown Orlando. The exit lasted for a while. Swift’s fans are primarily young white females.

When that dried up, I did something I never did before: I went to the back of the arena looking for rides because I saw people walking from that direction. There were simply too many pedicabs staging in the front. I managed to snag one ride and went back for more but never got one but when I went back, that’s when her trucks were pulling in and there were some fans waiting outside. For what, I have no idea. I wouldn’t expect Taylor to come out to sign autographs but there were young girls there dressed up like her. Top hat, red lipstick, and the works.

As far as I’ve ever seen, she’s the only artist that I can recall that has her likeness strewn about all over big truck trailers to let the whole world know she’s in town. It just might be that I never stuck around the Amway, or any other venue, long enough to notice if any other artists do that. Early in the night, I hit my goal and was contemplating going home but I kept getting rides and damn good tips. You already know what that means. My ass wasn’t goin’ nowhere! One chick mentioned what I’ve talked about with another driver in the past; that downtown used to be more vibrant.

I’ve noticed a lot of changes myself. Beyond the new apartment buildings by the courthouse and on Colonial and Orange, a lot of places have closed, like Bliss and Touch, others have opened, like Native Social Bar and Loft 55, while others have changed, like Terrace 390 no longer being a nightclub and Club LimeLite is now called Parallel. Change is nothing new, especially when it comes to names, but Terrace used to be a good spot for rides and their dancing wolfman was always entertaining to watch while I staged there. The thing about downtown is that it’s mostly just bars, clubs, and restaurants. The problem with that is when a bar or club closes, it’s replaced with another bar or club. The further problem is that there’s really not anything different about them. It’s all the same shit. That’s why they keep coming and going with such frequency.

If a location can’t support a certain type of business, are you gonna be the fool and open another of the same thing there? You see that with car dealerships all the time. What I mean is, if a bar opens in a location, closes, another bar opens, closes, and that cycle continues, are you gonna open YET ANOTHER bar there? For the new stuff that’s coming, most of them are just more bars. No matter what you call it or how you paint it, a bar is a bar. Same shit. You know what I’d like to see downtown? A pool hall. An arcade. A high-end sports bar with high emphasis on sports, less emphasis on bar. Some fast food joints to add variety to the pizza and hot dog cart landscape. You can’t go anywhere downtown to get a quick burger or fried chicken. That’s just unacceptable.

The existing restaurants that cater to the lunch crowd probably have their hand in keeping out fast food joints. How about a rooftop pool open to anyone? Could be a second or third story affair or on top of a skyscraper. We need an internet cafe or they could make the public library stay open 24 hours and act as such. Church Street Station has been empty for years. It needs to become a high-end retail establishment catering to tourists and people with money, not barflies and club kids, and have a variety of stores that don’t exist within reasonable driving distance. Where’s Walgreens or CVS? Where’s the dollar store? Where’s the souvenir shop?

As it stands, there’s just more of the same coming and it won’t be long before something else closes and is replaced with more of the same until the powers that be and entrepreneurs learn that the people who live in and visit downtown wanna do more than just dance and drink. As a pedicabber, it’s within my best interests for downtown to be successful and the complaints are evident all around. There are more hotels and apartments on the horizon but what is there for those people to do? Downtown needs more green space and water, too. A walking trail wouldn’t hurt. The one supposedly being built along the railroad tracks can’t come soon enough. It should loop the downtown corridor if they’re smart. Then a Segway tour company would pop up. Look at that, a new business. Ain’t that hard to figure out.

The night ended late and I had to drive to St. Pete to work the Blues Fest for the weekend. I didn’t get enough sleep but I was ready when I arrived mid-afternoon. I noticed some competition had appeared. Last time, they were there illegally but I checked them out and now they’ve got their papers straight. That’s all they had to do to begin with but because of the incident that occurred when they got busted for bad business practices, a lot of true colors came out and I choose not to associate with them. With the extra competition came lower tips. There’s what we usually get when competition exists, and there’s what I know I could’ve gotten if there was little to none.

Tampa Bay Blues Festival.

If someone didn’t wanna ride with me for what I was asking, they’d just go to someone else who’d likely give the ride for less. For a while in St. Pete, because of decreased competition, ALL of my tips were stellar. Now I have to come down in price to be closer to what the other guys ask for. That Saturday was still a great day but could’ve been better if I had arrived earlier. I got there when I could. It was very humid in the day and that was draining my energy. Not a single drop of rain on Friday or Saturday. Part of the problem with the amount of people walking to the event, which translated into less rides, was an increased use of shuttle buses.

I worked it last year and there was a wall of people walking to Vinoy Park. This year, it was a lot more spotty. I usually wouldn’t give rides to parties of 4 because I knew I could get the same tip from a party of 1 or 2 but again, with the competition, I had to do it if I wanted to make some money and that sucked even more energy out of me. Less people walking and more pedicabs. I wasn’t the only one who felt the difference from the previous year’s event. Hot dog cart vendors noticed it, too. My day was still good but I had to work harder for it. Sunday wasn’t a good day at all. As a matter of fact, it sucked.

I didn’t work on Sunday last year but I had no reason to think it wouldn’t be as good as the other days. There was no rain in the day but it was windy and that made rides tougher. Plus, there were exponentially less people walking to the event. Other pedicabbers had to venture out into downtown St. Pete to get rides which were still barely there. It was so slow that I went ahead and left after a few hours but my time definitely wasn’t wasted taking the trip. I made my money on Saturday and since the festival started later in the day on Sunday, I used that extra time to explore the city.

I hung out on the warm-water beach near the Gandy Blvd bridge and it was relaxing at first because I was there early but it didn’t take long before people started showing up in droves, playing loud music, making noise, and driving ATV’s. I left and went to another spot that was partially fenced off but the owner of that property showed up and motioned for me to leave. That situation was funny because the idiot tried to make it sound like I was the reason why people trespass on the abandoned land when it’s his dumb ass that doesn’t properly secure it. If anything, he should turn it into a park, marina, or whatever and charge for parking because people are gonna go there anyway, whether he’s there or not, but you can’t reason with an unreasonable person. Some people are just negative and stupid. I had a good conversation with a guy at the festival and he agrees because he knows how people are, too.

After that, it was still a while before the festival started so I went to Albert Whitted Park to relax. It provides a different view of the city but you gotta pay to park because the free parking only has about 5 spaces. Man, you know I ain’t pay shit to park. It was mostly relaxing except for an arguing couple. What’s it take to get some R&R these days? That’s why I like to venture out into the wilderness as much as I do and find hidden spots; to get away from everyone and everything. I love me some humans but I gotta separate myself from them on occasion.

I left the disaster of a Sunday to the pedicabbers that were there. They can waste their time all they want. Mine is too valuable. When I got into Orlando, it was clear it rained quite heavily. When I checked the St. Pete forecast, it appeared that it had just rained down there, too. A system was moving through the central part of the state so it seemed I made the right call by bouncing. Not to mention it continued raining that night. Comments I read online and people I spoke to in person said the threat of rain was keeping them home and stopping them from attending all 3 days.

Johnny Lang was the main act on Saturday and I heard complaints about his performance. A lot of people like his old stuff but I hear that he’s transitioned into a more religious act and that doesn’t appeal to some people. They came to hear old Lang, not the new guy. That’s how it is with some artists. They mature and their style and sound changes. I didn’t hear too many complaints about ticket prices. There was one act that had a studio quality sound but I have no idea who it was. It was good music, though, I’ll give him that much. I never found out where the shuttle buses were coming from. That location could’ve been a good source for rides if it wasn’t too far away.

Cold water was a necessity with the humidity and I hit up several places to get it. At one point, I gave a ride to the Hilton and desperately needed something cold inside of me. Publix and Subway nearby were closed so I had no choice but to go into the hotel and it had a party going on. I didn’t give a fuck and crashed the bar area because I needed that water. All those well-dressed white people and then the sweaty, smelly black guy walks right in with no issues. The bartenders treated me right and filled me up with ice. One hot chick walked up to me and tried to start a conversation. With me. Tired. Probably stankin’. Sweaty. Completely out of place. Me. Pheromones. Oh yeah, they’re real. No shit, a sweaty pedicab driver has more pull than a Dapper Dan.

In one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen, when I was packing up to leave on Sunday, a guy sped into the parking lot in his SUV and started feeding the animals (birds and squirrels). He was talking to them like they were his kids. Hell, like they were even human. The damn things don’t speak English! He called them his “parking lot puppies.” Only one other chick was there and she was looking at him the same way I was: like he was a freak show. Speaking of, something I saw on Saturday that still cracks me the fuck up was a homeless lady sitting on a bench having an argument with…herself! I was giving a ride to the St. Pete Yacht Club and heard some yelling. I looked over and this bitch was arguing into thin air and she was hardcore about the shit. The way one guy who passed by looked at her was hysterical. It was like he was thinking, “What the fuck is wrong with this crazy bitch?”

Sometimes all you can do is stop and stare. I don’t think anyone wanted to jump into that conversation. No telling what the hell was on her mind to make her put on a display like that. On the flip side, that lady has clearly lost her mind completely. I’ve seen her talking to herself in the past but never with that kind of intensity. People talk about the state of mental health in this country. I think we all know it’s fucked up and needs attention. That wacked-out ass homeless chick could sure use some help. Parking Lot Puppy guy probably could, too. I swear to you, if I could’ve gotten her on video, I would have. Not just to exploit the shit out of her but also to show that people need help. From homeless to penthouse, mental health issues don’t discriminate.

Friday and Saturday were both really good days to work. Thursday should’ve been but you can’t be in two places at once. Sunday was a rare disaster but I enjoyed my time in the city and there’s so much more for me to explore in the St. Pete area. Although I don’t like a lot of the new businesses popping up in downtown Orlando, I look forward to them opening. Let’s just hope they can manage to stay open for more than a year. That’s the usual shelf life.

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